Propane, Coal or Pellet?

Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: Sheilashu On: Tue Oct 04, 2016 3:45 pm

This is our first winter living in NEPA (near Lake Wallenpaupack). We're in an 8-year-old Cape Cod with an unfinished, full walk-in basement that has superior walls. The two upper levels are heated with electric baseboard. We'd like to heat the 1000 ft basement and augment the main level while we're at it. We'll close off the top level bedrooms in the winter. We've thought about a gas insert FP on the main level and will eventually be changing the kitchen cook top to propane.

Our priorities for heat are in this order:
Consistent, even heat
Cost for install and monthly rates
Dust/ash (I've had ashthma and our dogs sleep in the basement)
Relatively hassle free
Access (we live on a very steep hill)
Long term feasibility [able to still maintain in our golden years (retire in 10 years), resale value]

We are considering:
Propane Stove in basement plus insert on main level
Coal Stove
Pellet Stove

I've heard wonderful and not-so-wonderful things about all three options. What do you say?
Other Heating: looking to add coal stove to basement

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: SWPaDon On: Tue Oct 04, 2016 3:49 pm

Welcome to NEPA Crossroads, the best coal forum on the internet.
Hand Fed Coal Furnace: Clayton 1600M
Coal Size/Type: Bituminous
Other Heating: Oil furnace

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: lsayre On: Tue Oct 04, 2016 3:54 pm

Welcome to the forum! What do you expect the members of a coal burners conference to say? We are coal burners. We are biased.

Electricity is the highest cost form of heat there is, by far. Anthracite will save you over electricity hands down. Figure on about 1/3 the cost.

Coal is not hassle free. Ashes must be removed (likely every other day to daily) and disposed of or put somewhere.

Anthracite coal will last millions of years with little change. Already 300 million years old, so whats a few more million. Availability is stable. Price is stable to going down. Price is lower than pellets, BTU for BTU. Coal does not absorb moisture, and is hardly at all affected by it. Bagged coal is often damp, and it benefits by keeping the dust down.

Pellets (particularly if stored over time and not purchased and burned the same season) can absorb moisture and can develop mold, rot, or get bug infested. If they collect some moisture, they will have diminished heat output. If they collect a lot of moisture they will at some juncture turn into mush. Availability is often iffy. How old and moist are they when you purchase them?

Propane is cheap presently, but is subject to wild price swings (up to about 3X the current price on occasion) and occasionally even availability issues.

Anthracite has about 1.5X to 1.6X more energy per pound than pellets.

Anthracite coal will have roughly 10 to perhaps as high as 15 times more ash to manage (by weight and volume) and dispose of than pellets.
Stoker Coal Boiler: AHS S130 Coal Gun
Coal Size/Type: Blaschak Anthracite Pea
Other Heating: Resistance Boiler (13.5 KW)

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: Sheilashu On: Tue Oct 04, 2016 4:42 pm

I've been getting information from people who burn wood or pellets and I knew this was a coal forum, but thought maybe some of you had experience with all of it - wood, gas and coal. We are definitely leaning towards coal. It's just a new concept for us and people from outside the area seem to think we are going back into the dark ages to use coal. Thank you for your response!
Other Heating: looking to add coal stove to basement

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: warminmn On: Tue Oct 04, 2016 4:55 pm

Coal will beat the pellet idea hands down, Ive burned both. Pellets cost more BTU to btu, if they get wet pellets are mush. Pellets suck, I don't know a better way to put it. Many of the pellet stoves have multi-hundred dollar parts that break and leave you cold. (coal stokers could too but seem to be better)

The propane option is the only other option, forget pellets, no matter what neighbors say. Been there done that. Propane vs. coal is more of a cost vs work argument. Many coal stoves run without electric, very few propane stoves do anymore except unvented and do not buy one of them.

I doubt coal will bother your asthma as much as wood, or maybe not at all. Obviously propane will be dust free. The choice is yours. And its anthracite coal you would want, not soft bit coal as that would likely bother you.
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Chubby Junior, Efel Nestor Martin, Frankenstove
Coal Size/Type: nut and stove anthracite
Other Heating: wood

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: Lightning On: Tue Oct 04, 2016 5:38 pm

It should also be mentioned that a nice free standing coal stove will add ambiance to the room and along with that, radiant heat that will penetrate into your bones. Definitely a nice attribute.
Hand Fed Coal Furnace: Overmodified/Bored out Clayton 1537
Coal Size/Type: Anthracite/Awesome Size

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: Uglysquirrel On: Tue Oct 04, 2016 8:07 pm

Welcome to the forum.

You noted an interest in pursuing a gas insert FP. To my understanding, there are at least two types of propane heating units.....those that vent suggesting the combustion gases vent outside with some sort of heat exchanger and those whose flame or catalytic element heats the air, the latter type being more efficient & cheaper. Generally the latter type is intended by building codes to be an auxilliary (intermittent) heat source since this type heater releases a substantial amount of water into the house as part of the combustion process.

Especially in a well sealed home like yours, excess moisture in the air can seep into the insulation causing mold and wood rot if used constantly especially as the primary heating source. You can Google these type issues, check out the pictures.

Then there is the decision of either buying or renting the propane tank which comes with discussions that may have been covered elsewhere. If you want more info on that , please PM me.

Sounds like you have some good info already. Good luck.

Stove/Furnace Model: Pocono

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: Del On: Tue Oct 04, 2016 8:47 pm

Hi Sheila
Welcome to the forum!
I've personally used all types of heating appliances over the years and each has its place.
Electric heat- expensive, but no work on your part, set the thermostat and pay the electric bill.

Propane- I've used furnaces and fireplace inserts. Furnace not much different than electric in terms of effort, a little less expensive. Fireplace insert didn't provide a lot of heat, but did help warm the room it was in.

Pellets - I had a Quadrafire stove. Lots of problems with it. Their customer service was great, as they fixed everything with no cost to me, but was out of operation too often for my liking. It did heat my entire 2800 sq ft home when it worked for around $1000 for the year

Wood burning stove. Heats the entire house for little cash, but a LOT of work, dirty, and not a consistent heat.

Now for an opinion on why you posted here to begin with - COAL!
I have a free standing Harman stove. I just received my coal for the year and the bill was $600.
I fill the stove every 12 hours and empty the ashes. Takes about 10 minutes. Dirt and dust are minimal and shouldn't be a problem with your asthma. It is by far the most consistent and cost effective heat source you'll find. Lots of friendly and knowledgeable folks here to help if you need it.
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Harman Mark II
Coal Size/Type: Nut
Other Heating: Propane

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: wilder11354 On: Tue Oct 04, 2016 10:00 pm

Hello, and welcome to the COAL site. I've been heating with coal for 6 years. I use a coal boiler setup, hydronic /baseboards. Live in Montrose,Pa a few miles west/north of you. I have COPD, and the dust issues, really isn't an issue to me. I hand feed, not a stoker. do ash cleaning once every 24 hours run time. Unless its unusually cold like winter before last.
I have been giving seriuos thought to, switching over to a radiant style coal burner. reasons being 1 will use less coal, not heating water than circulating it. 2 want to get more heat from burning directly into house(radiant) off stove.

I been eyeballing the Hitzer stoves, in particular the Hitzer 50-93. plenty of heat output, easy of using, and know first hand from a friend on forom, visited in late fall, that it works well. Up side no electric needed to run it, so power outage situations you still have heat. go look at many stoves, ask questions here, and if you do go coal... well your in coal country.. Very abudandt, and prices will be cheaper than anything else you consider BTU to BTU cost wise.
Hand Fed Coal Boiler: Harman SF260 Boiler
Coal Size/Type: nut or pea, anthracite
Other Heating: crown oil boiler, backup.if needed

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: Hambden Bob On: Tue Oct 04, 2016 11:51 pm

Welcome to 'Der Coal Board ! Glad You stopped by and joined !

We've got a handy little search bar in Our upper right corner. You'll be shocked at the extensive topic library that's stored there. It may come in handy as You delve into the World of Anthracite mined right here in the Good 'Ol USA.

You'll need to truly look hard to beat the Energy Independence of Coal. Anthracite,AKA Hard Coal stores very well,will always be available for You to stay warm with,even during periods of upset,conventional heating system breakdowns,and any weather related power outages(if a hand-fired unit is used). It's really all up to You and Your Family....Really !....

What You'll find here is that You ask the questions,and the Fine Folks of the NEPA(North Eastern Pennsylvania)Coal Board will give You much info to digest and disseminate.....

Caution: Avoid Overload ! Keep Your Voyage simple and rewarding !

I've been known to miss alot,sometimes,but I didn't notice if Your Home presently has a masonry chimney all ready built. Perhaps a triple wall metal one? I know that most homes with Electric Baseboard avoided building any sort of chimney at all.

Let Us know,and being the dullard that I am,I'll go back and re-read Your post ! It has been a long day...... Take Care,and We look forward to hearing more from You ! :up:
Hambden Bob
Hot Air Coal Stoker Stove: Harman 1998 Magnum Stoker
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Blower Model Coal Chubby 1982-Serial#0097
Coal Size/Type: Rice-A-Roni ! / Nut
Other Heating: Pro-Pain Forced Air

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: Scottscoaled On: Wed Oct 05, 2016 1:15 am

here is something you should also consider. You have no chimneys right now. As a diehard coal burner I would tell you to put a coal stove in the basement, one in the living room, and a coal range in the kitchen. Being a more practical kind of guy I might suggest something else because both pellets and propain offer reasonable install costs. Coal for you is the most expensive to install. You need a chimney built or a stainless steel exhaust up the side of your house. You sound like you are in it to save money. That could be a deal breaker. I can tell you there is no better heat than coal. Period.
Stoker Coal Boiler: EFM 520, 700, Van Wert 800 GJ 61,53
Baseburners & Antiques: Magic Stewart 16, times 2!
Coal Size/Type: Lots of buck
Other Heating: Slant Fin electric boiler backup

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: SWPaDon On: Wed Oct 05, 2016 1:45 am

Would a stoker with a powervent be an option? Would that be less money than a chimney?
Hand Fed Coal Furnace: Clayton 1600M
Coal Size/Type: Bituminous
Other Heating: Oil furnace

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: LehighanthraciteMatt On: Wed Oct 05, 2016 5:52 am

WELCOME! Coal is definitely the most even heat, if you use an automatic stove you can have a power vent installed and wouldn't need a chimney, also some coal stoves are now direct vent just like a pellet stove. I agree pellets are a waste of money, propane is a good option now, BUT prices go all over the place much like oil. Where coal prices have stayed very consistent. You have to weigh your options and what is most important to you.

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: Richard S. On: Wed Oct 05, 2016 7:00 am

Sheilashu wrote:Consistent, even heat

Coal stokers are thermostatically controlled just like propane or wood pellets, it's on demand heat. Propane is going to have one small advantage here, if you wanted a little heat at this time of the year you can turn it on and off easily but since you have electric I guess that's really not an issue.

Optionally a hand fired stove is a little more work but a lot less than regular wood, even a hand fired stove can provide relatively uniform heat. I'm mentioning these because they do not need to power to operate so it's something else to consider, talk to your neighbors and find out how often and long power outages are. Realize living there if you have a big enough storm it might be 3+ days without power, that might only happen once every few years but expect it. Plan for a generator or heat that doesn't require power.

You mentioned an insert, they make coal inserts but they are hand fired. Typically you are going to have to service it twice a day. People usually get on 12 schedule with these. If you have open floor plan design it will work very well, if not you will have to figure out how to move the heat into other rooms, typically with cold air return. You put a duct at the furthest end on the house and then run it back to the area the stove is in. These work best when the unit is in the basement but you can incorporate fan in it.

Cost for install and monthly rates

The cost for the propane unit should be cheaper but I'd imagine because of the cost of running the propane lines it will be more overall. Comparing the coal and pellet stoves there is big cost difference between the $1K Home Depot pellet stove and a $3K Harman pellet stove. There is no Home depot brand coal stoves so make sure you are comparing the costs coal stoves to the better pellet stoves. If you are comparing apples to apples costs should be similar.

Fuel rates are going to favor coal, the only thing that will even come close is natural gas if you are in town with piped supply.

Dust/ash (I've had ashthma and our dogs sleep in the basement)

I can't speak from experience but from other what I gather the dust/dirt is about the same. There is things you can do to help prevent it with coal. They sell oiled coal for starters.

Relatively hassle free

Coal and pellets both involve some work, the coal is less work. For starters for every 3 tons of pellets you need to move you only need to move about 2 tons of coal.

Access (we live on a very steep hill)

If you are getting delivery this is issue no matter what fuel. You live in an area where bulk delivery is available, if you have a basement window near the driveway the best thing to do is build a bin big enough for what you expect to use for the season inside the basement. Get it all at once in the summer into the fall, this is the best time of the year to get it because it will be the cleanest. If you get it in the summer it's a little cheaper. Plus if you have the stoker in the basement you only have to walk over to the coal bin for the coal.

This is one big advantage coal has over pellets, it's a lot less storage space required and it can be stored anywhere indefinitely. You can dump it on the ground if you want however I'd suggest tarping it top and bottom if you were going to do that. It will burn wet but you want to avoid that it will freeze together and because of corrosion issues in the hopper.

As side note if this is your driveway coal ash makes excellent anti skid material.

Long term feasibility [able to still maintain in our golden years (retire in 10 years), resale value]

You have to figure you might be moving 40 to 60 pounds of coal per day on average for 5 months. There is ways to help eliminate the work, some people have set up vac systems for example to move the coal from the bin to the hopper. Gravity is your friend, a coal bin at ground level can be piped with pvc into a basement level hopper.

Propane Stove in basement plus insert on main level

You can get a small coal furnace to handle both and it's not much more than regular stove. You'd have to run some duct work.
Richard S.
Stoker Coal Boiler: Van Wert VA1200
Coal Size/Type: Buckwheat/Anthracite

Re: Propane, Coal or Pellet?

PostBy: Richard S. On: Wed Oct 05, 2016 7:03 am

Sheilashu wrote: It's just a new concept for us and people from outside the area seem to think we are going back into the dark ages to use coal. Thank you for your response!

Invite them over around Christmas, turn it up to 85 and answer the door in your shorts and a t-shirt and ask them what they think of the dark ages. :lol:

FYI if you know what the electric bill is from last year I can give you an idea of what the coal costs might be.
Richard S.
Stoker Coal Boiler: Van Wert VA1200
Coal Size/Type: Buckwheat/Anthracite